Know Your Foe: Penn State

Looking to jump into the top 14 of the BCS standings and finish the home season undefeated, No.14 hosts Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium. Badger Nation gets the inside scoop on this week's opponent from FightOnState Publisher Mark Brennan.

1, The last time these two teams met the Penn State scholarship sanctions were still fresh and probably hadn't delivered a full impact yet. Now that they've had more time to sink in, how has the program struggled with the scholarship reduction and in what main areas?

Brennan: The scholarship reduction has led to a lack of depth. That, in turn, has forced the coaching staff to rely on younger players sooner than it otherwise might have. It has also forced former walk-ons into key roles. Generally speaking, it has magnified the impact of nearly every injury, and that has had a trickle-down impact on special teams. For example, in the past, Penn State would use certain starters on coverage teams. Now the staff won't risk putting its better players in those roles for fear of injury.

2, It's always tough to win on the road in the Big Ten, but Penn State seems like a drastically different team away from State College. What are some of the main things that haven't carried over from home games to road games?

Brennan: The 100,000 fans in Beaver Stadium, to start. I don't think you can understate that. Dating back to last season's finale against Wisconsin, four of Penn State's last five Big Ten home games have gone to overtime. The loud crowds have helped the Lions pull out three of those games. Also, I noted earlier how many young players are in key roles for this team -- starting with the quarterback. It is kind of natural that those players are more comfortable at home than on the road.

3, Talk about the impact that Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson have had on the Penn State offense.

Brennan: Robinson was outstanding last year, so everyone knew what he was going to bring to the table. He's stepped up his game this year, especially late in those tight home contests. Hackenberg was a bit of a wildcard coming into the season, but he's exceeded all expectations. He's gotten better at managing the offense and has been at his best in clutch situations. That said, he'll be the first to admit he has a long way to go. Consistency has been an issue. And sometimes he tends to lock on to Robinson and not go through his progressions to find other receivers who may be open. Remember, Hackenberg arrived on campus less than five months ago. So spring ball is going to be big for him.

4, The Nittany Lions have alternated wins since Sept.14. Why has momentum been so hard to grasp for them and does it have more to do with the offense (24 points or less seven times) or the defense (over 40 four times)?

Brennan: Part of it is the way the schedule has broken down, and the fact that PSU has been so much better at home than on the road. In terms of which side of the ball is more to blame for the losses, your stat says it all. At times the defense has been awful. And at times the offense has been bad. Then against Nebraska last weekend, the special teams were a disaster. So there is more than enough blame to go around. Another issue in the losses was that even when one side of the ball played well, it wasn't enough to compensate for the struggles on the other side of the ball. The bottom line is with less overall talent, this team has very little margin for error.

5, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Penn State trouble? Where do you think the Nittany Lions have the edge over the Badgers?

Brennan: I think Wisconsin's offense, defense and special teams will give Penn State trouble. Too vague? The Nittany Lions have had their biggest issues against opponents with good team speed. So I expect that to be a problem for PSU in all three phases of the game this weekend. I'm not sure the Lions have a clear edge anywhere. But the Hackenberg-Robinson connection has given everyone headaches. Defensively, I won't be surprised if the Lions force the Badgers to pass a bit more than they usually do.


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